All Are Welcome: New Church Seeks to Embrace All Religions

From the New York Times: 

Clad in proper Pacific Northwest flannel, toting a flask of “rocket fuel” coffee typical of Starbucks’ home turf, Steven Greenebaum rolled his Prius into a middle school parking lot one Sunday morning last month. Then he set about transforming its cafeteria into a sanctuary and himself into a minister.

He donned vestments adorned with the symbols of nearly a dozen religions. He unfolded a portable bookshelf and set the Koran beside the Hebrew Bible, with both of them near two volumes of the “Humanist Manifesto” and the Sioux wisdom of “Black Elk Speaks.” Candles, stones, bells and flowers adorned the improvised altar.

Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.

They had come together with about 20 other members to celebrate the end of their third year as the congregation of the Living Interfaith Church, the holy mash-up that Mr. Greenebaum had created. Yearning for decades to find a religion that embraced all religions, and secular ethical teachings as well, he had finally followed the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene: “D.I.Y.,” meaning “do it yourself.”

So as the service progressed, the liturgy moved from a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi to the “passing of the peace” greeting that traced back to early Christianity to a Buddhist responsive reading to an African-American spiritual to a rabbinical song.

…“Many of our most intractable ills may be laid on the altar of our divisions into ‘them’ and ‘us,’ ” Mr. Greenebaum, 65, said during his sermon. “Such a mind-set allows us to judge others and find them lesser beings. Now, I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong. But I am here to say that there is no ‘them.’ And there is no ‘us’ who are somehow superior to them.”…

…Indeed, fully one-quarter of Americans attend worship services outside their own faiths, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center. The report attributed that trend to the growth of interfaith marriage and to the influence of Eastern religions and New Age spirituality.

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, placed the experiment of the Living Interfaith Church within the larger “idea of religion as compassion.”…

“This strikes me as a kind of institutionalization of a very strong trend,” he said of Mr. Greenebaum’s start-up. “It’s the idea that all religions are different paths up the mountain, and when you get to the top of the mountain you find compassion. But one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.

“So for all religions to be one religion, you need to elide all the elements that were central to religion in the past: the hajj to Mecca, Jesus dying on the cross, whatever it might be. You’ve got to turn these first principles into last principles.”

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